Heritage

Now one of Britain’s top seaside resorts Skegness grew from a small fishing village into a Victorian watering-place within a few years of the coming of the railway.

The Earl of Scarborough, the leading land-owner of the area, had helped bring the railway to Skegness in 1872. Four years later he helped form the Skegness Pier Company, with the intention of providing the town with a spacious promenade pier.

The Pier company offered a £ 50.00 premium for the best design for the proposed pier and they received forty-four entries from all over the country, from which six were selected for further consideration.

The design of Messrs. Clarke and Pickwell of Hull was eventually chosen, and Head Wrightson of Stockton were given the contract to build the Pier. Work began in 1880, and on Whit-Saturday 4th June 1881, the pier was officially opened amid great ceremony by the then Duke of Edinburgh.

The pier had cost £ 20,840 to build: it was 1817 ft long with a deck width of 25ft. There were projecting bays along the pier at 120 ft intervals, four of them contained glass and wooden shelters, and there was continuous seating along the whole length. The pier entrance consisted of a large Gothic type archway flanked by smaller kiosks in matching style. An impressive flight of eight steps led up from the promenade to the pier entrance.

The T-shaped pier head measured 222 ft by 122 ft and contained a saloon / concert hall which could seat 700 people. The pier’s substructure was typical of the period, with screw piles and cast iron columns supporting lattice girders of wrought iron. Comprehensive bracing secured ornate columns to a line of centre piles. Heavy wooden beams laid out on the top girders supported the decking, which was made of Jarrah wood. A landing stage, built of pitch pine, was provided on the north side of the pier head, but due to difficulties in embarking and disembarking passengers in rough seas, it was transferred to the south side, where there was better protection from the elements. The first steam boat trips, organised by the Skegness Steam Boat Co., began in 1882, and they were soon to become very popular. There were trips around The Wash and up to the Lynn Well Lightship, but the most popular excursion was the trip to Hunstanton, where most people travelled the extra eight miles to visit the royal residence at Sandringham. Skegness Pier soon proved to be a very popular and viable attraction, and over 20,000 people trod upon its deck one day alone in August 1889. The pier-head saloon was extended in 1898 at a cost of £379, and new refreshment rooms were built on the south-west corner of the pierhead. Entertainment provided in the saloon at this time included musical ensembles, military bands, a ventriloquist, a banjoist, a contralto , masked fetes and even confetti battles.

Disaster nearly struck in 1895 when a small fire in the saloon was only contained by the quick thinking of the pier staff and holidaymakers. Disaster did strike though on March 21st 1919 when the schooner ‘ Europa ‘ went through the Pier causing a 150 ft breach.

A so-called ‘ temporary ‘ gangway was constructed across the gap, but this was to remain in situ until 1939, when the pier was finally restored at a cost of £3,272. North and South beach entrances were built in 1929 / 30 and between 1936 and 1939, there was a new modernisation scheme for the pier entrance which saw a new large archway with further shops either side. During the Second World War, the pier became a restricted area and parts of the decking were removed as an anti-invasion precaution. It was re-opened in 1948 after £23,528 had been spent on repairs following considerable dilapidation of the structure during the war years. During the same year, a steel framed glass canopy was built at the shoreward end, which housed shops, amusements and a cinema.

The pier-head theatre ( also known as the saloon or pavilion ) continued to be used for a wide variety of entertainments, with Jan Ramsden and his players being a firm favourite with the pier audience for many years. In 1953 East coast floods damaged the North-East corner of the pier-head and flooded the pier entrance, but no serious damage was sustained. In 1971, the pier entrance archway and shops ( which unbeknown to the pier company, were listed buildings ) were completely demolished and a large building housing shops, cafes and amusement arcades was built. At the same time the pierhead theatre was enlarged and the seating capacity was increased from 700 to over 1000.

These new developments lead to serious financial difficulties for the pier company and they eventually sold the Pier to Mr Robin Mitchell,  entrpreneur of a multi national kiddy ride manufacturing business, established in the early 1960's. On 11th January 1978, Skegness pier along with the piers at Margate, Herne Bay and Hunstanton, was irretrievably damaged by a northerly gale with high spring tides.

The pier-head theatre and Eastern shelters were left high and dry, surrounded by the wreckage of the remainder of the pier. The derelict theatre became the home for thousands of starlings and though it was designated as a listed building, it was considered a hazard for shipping and in October 1985 work began on dismantling it. Whilst this was taking place, the theatre caught fire and was completely gutted. Two stranded workmen had to be rescued by lifeboat. The surviving section of the pier is now mainly landward and consists of full sizes ten lane AMF Bowling Centre, Licensed Bar, Laserquest Arena and several fast food, coffee and snack bars.

The Pier is now in the ownership of the late Robin Mitchell's daughter Carolyn Wilkinson. The photograph to the right shows her grandmother, Rose Mitchell (left) and Laura Kirby, her great grandmother (right), strolling down the pier many years ago. Little did they know that their descendants would be the proud caretakers of this immense structure.

A £5m development plan to rebuild 100 metres of the pier incorporating a new pierhead was completed some years ago and holiday-makers and residents alike can  still stroll down the pier and enjoy the wonderful views along the miles of beach. During the summer months, the deck also plays host to a variety of traditional seaside attractions such as Hook-A-Duck and children's Carousel, the Big Slide ,Helter Skelter and Bungee Trampoline plus many others.

The Piers most recent setback was the devastation caused by the Tidal surge in December 2013 which completely flooded the Bowling Centre and Laserquest. This cost over 1million pounds to completely refurbish and it now boasts Ten New Qubica AMF Bowling Lanes with a Newly themed Hollywood Bar & Diner. This reopened by the Mayor and other local dignatories in time for Easter 2014.

The front of the interior of the Pier was altered slighlty in January 2015 by the removal of a staircase as part of the ongoing development of the Pier. This has opened up the front of the Pier giving it a much more modern and spacious feel.

Skegness Pier keeps evolving over the years to keep in the forefront of attractions on the East Coast. It now even boasts its very own APP as well of course of being on Facebook with over twenty thousand visits being recorded and it also has a big following on Twitter.

Tourists On Deck Arial Pier Old Pier Beach
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